Dear Younger Me

Me at 26, posing with one of my acrylic paintings.

The group Mercy Me had a song back in 2014 titled “Dear Younger Me.” Reflecting on the distance between our present and the possibilities of our past, the second verse goes like this:

Dear younger me
I cannot decide
Do I give some speech about how to get the most out of your life
Or do I go deep
And try to change
The choices that you’ll make cuz they’re choices that made me

I’m 26 at the time, had graduated from college four years before and then moved to Southern California. I had originally intended on attending graduate school in San Diego. I got a job, found an apartment, changed jobs a couple of times. It was several years later that I realized I had given up on the idea of graduate school and ever pursuing a career in art. A fork in the road I never saw coming.

Thirteen years out of high school I joined the Army. Enlisting at 31 was a challenge I was physically up for, but one I wasn’t really mentally prepared to take on. Nearly everyone I served with was younger than me, including the lieutenant in charge of our platoon. I settled in to my job as a cartographer, relished my time in Germany, but decided that a career in the military was not for me. I got out of the service and decided to stay in the Washington, D.C. area. Another fork in the road, though this time I thought I knew where it would lead. I was hoping for a job at the Smithsonian: that never happened and I settled back into a career in graphic art production.

I’ve lived in Virginia over thirty years now and looking back at some of those early decisions, I’ve often wondered what would have happened differently? Had I stayed in Nevada; had I gone on to graduate school and not moved to California; had I not joined the Army; had I moved back to the west coast and stayed there?

The Old Testament Book of Jeremiah has a verse that many people have committed to memory. “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:11

It seems we’ve gotten so good at looking at out GPS maps on our phones, planning out the way we should go to get to our destinations, always looking forward, that we’ve lost a desire to turn around and look back from where we’ve come. A verse like Jeremiah’s begins to make sense when we take the time to look back and nod, “Oh yes, now I see how that turn in the road led to this decision. How that move opened up the door to this experience, which lead me here today. How even in the small decisions, God was guiding me to Him.”

Do I go deep and try to change the choices that you’ll make cuz they’re choices that made me?” No, but I wish I could tell Younger Me how to get the most out of our life. To enjoy the hills and valleys, sharp turns and mountain views, knowing that God really does have a hope and a future prepared for us. I know it would take some of the anxiety out of life, just knowing that He’s got this, that it’s going to be OK.

Dear Younger You: Trust Me. It really is going to be OK. I’ve got this.” God.

Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us.” Psalm 40:5

Listen to the full music video from Mercy Me here

Painting Goals

Still life
Still life with oranges, lemons, and limes.

For much of my elementary school years I was known as the boy who liked to draw. I was also known as the boy who needed glasses, but that’s another story. As far back as I can remember, I would be drawing, usually skies full of clouds, eagles flying over mountains, or dead trees in the desert. And quite often I would be one of the students chosen to help the teacher decorate the classroom bulletin board. From about second grade on, all I wanted to do was Art.

So it seems strange to me looking back that I don’t remember having taken any art classes during those years. Yet once I got to middle school and art was an elective, I took as many classes as allowed. The same in high school. In college my major was studio art. My entire life I had expected that I would eventually be a professional artist, or at least have a career in the arts. And for the most part I did, having spent more than 25 years in the graphic arts and art production fields. 

However, at no time had I ever taken an art education class. In fact, as much as I endorse the arts in school, it’s been a mystery to me how teachers actually encourage and develop any child’s interest in art. Walking thru school hallways decorated with student artwork, I had no idea what it takes to get a nine year-old to settle down and actually paint, with a brush and paints, a still life in front of them. 

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon giving “art lessons” to my young niece and nephew. They arrived with paints, brushes, and canvases ready to create. For my part, I had snacks for the kids and a bowl full of fruit we set up as a still life. For two hours we worked at seeing the subject in front of us; drawing the outline of oranges, lemons, and limes in a bowl; mixing paints and getting used to the effects of different-sized brushes. It was a grand experiment in finding out how little I know about actually teaching others. 

When their Mom came and retrieved them later that day, I experienced a sense of relief mixed with fatigue. I can’t imagine what school teachers go thru to prepare lessons and keep the attention of a room full of children, even when it’s something they like to do. I had my hands full keeping one nine year old boy focused on not getting paint all over himself and his sister while working on a project they could take home. 

Imagine my surprise then to learn from their Mom how they thought the afternoon had gone. A few days later she had texted me this report: “The whole car ride home was all about how amazing it was and how much they learned – especially about using water and mixing the paints!”

And I’m OK with that. I learned that you have to tailor your goals to the age of the participant (dolt! Of course). And if all we did that day was learn how to mix a nice lime green, then that’s OK too. Next time I’ll be ready: more snacks and bigger brushes. Smaller goals and time spent encouraging young people to learn as they go can be very satisfying at any age.

“Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others.” Exodus 35:30-34